Sunday, 16 December 2018

The politico-media nexus is the cancer at the heart of British society


When the real story of Brexit is told (if ever it is) it will be an account of how a self-absorbed, self-regarding and trivial media class failed every basic test of competence. It starts with a collective inability to recognise and process nuances.

The first taste of this was early on in the referendum was Carolyn Quinn of the Radio 4's Today Programme jetting off to Greenland to explore "the practical process by which Britain would exit the EU if UK voters opt to leave and looks at the experience of Greenland, which quit the EEC in 1985".

Where to even start? This is long before the single market was established in the UK, before we evolved JIT supply chains inside it and before Maastricht, Lisbon and the dreaded Article 50. It is difficult to imagine anything less useful than going off on a jolly to Greenland. 

This was compounded by a nasty piece of hackery shortly afterwards by the BBC's Jonty Bloom, entitled "How does Norway's relationship with the EU work?". Again, another jolly at our expense to tell us nothing and get the fundamentals wrong. Thus it was lodged that Norway has no say in the rules". 

Though the origins of this mythology go way back, this was at a crucial point in the campaign where one would have thought, having a public service remit (and at such a crucial time), the BBC would have taken a little more care. Instead, this slovenly and wholly inaccurate narrative plagued the debate throughout with those same mantras oft repeated by Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg.

This has been the problem with Brexit throughout. Narratives are established and take on a life of their own, and the media is only interested in the competing narratives of the political extremes. Thus remainers were able to say that a Norway Brexit would be pointless, equating it with being an EU member with no say, which in turn became ammunition for the Ultras pushing their no deal agenda. 

Once such a narrative is established, it is all but impossible to dislodge it. Only when the truth gets some recognition from within the bubble does it gain any traction. In this instance, its sponsorship has come too little, too late - and from the wrong side of the argument. The impasse was never going to be broken without a leading leaver to back it. 

But then half the problem here is that those entrusted to interrogate politicians lack the intellectual equipment to challenge untruths. Just yesterday we saw Rebecca Long Bailey telling us that Labour would renegotiate a customs union with a say in trade deals. This slips by without challenge, as do the various assertions from leave MPs that we already trade with the rest of the world on WTO terms.

Even after three long years of intense debate with Radio 4 being at the razor's edge of the national debate, John Humphries still doesn't have a functioning notion of the difference between the customs union and the single market. Robert Peston routinely belches his incomprehension into Facebook. Faisal Islam still struggles with the very basics. Brexit is simply beyond their abilities. 

What makes this all the more infuriating is their inability to learn. As we have seen, each of the options periodically enjoys a few days in the spotlight where the media will recycle the same tired talking points but learn absolutely nothing in between so that each time we go through the mill, rather than advancing the debate, overall understanding is regressing. 

There are one or two semi-capable reporters in the BBC ranks. John Campbell, BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor, very occasionally produces reportage of value but relies almost entirely on remain inclined testimony, largely from Twitter "experts" which amounts to quite scraping rather than going to primary sources. What we get, therefore, is the prestige opinion which is just as prone to dishonesty and factual error.

It is this intellectual malaise that runs right the way through the politico-media establishment. This is why so many politicians and hacks have fixation with customs unions as the basis of any solution to the respective Brexit dilemmas. We get Raphael Hogarth of the Institute for Government boasting that we need a customs union because he's been to the Norway border to see for himself. This is highly typical London think tanks who employ arrogant teenagers who don't know how to think.

This is where I lament that we do not live in the times of the vikings where we would could raise an army, march on London and leave no man or woman alive. It's pointless singling out any one faction because they all suffer from the same disease. Information is transmitted orally, there is very little actual research and most of what they think they know is derived from secondary sources which only carry weight because of their institutional prestige. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that they were ever going to get the right answers.

Then, of course, the media suffers from the obsession with youth. We see a procession of telegenic, twenty something policy juniors on television spouting absolute crap. The national debate is frames by morons for morons - made worse by the fact that television producers are also unsupervised children. Experienced journalists cost too much. It is amidst this morass that agenda driven factions can advance their agendas without challenge.

This then creates a feedback loop where politicians who get their information from this same media go on the media to recycle the same errors adding their own in the process. Westminster then becomes a pocket of unreality as half understood concepts are fed into electoral analysis resulting in entirely warped triangulation - which explains Labour's dogs dinner of a Brexit policy (whatever that is this week).

The depressing part about all this is that there doesn't seem to be a way to fix it. This is about as good as it gets. This is a consequences of the internet, the twenty-four hour news cycle and the auto-cannibalism of corporate scale media. For as long as voters are passive recipients of news from the television, ever keen to be entertained by low grade Sunday morning political magazine programmes, this does not improve. 

Between this and the utterly valueless exercise that is Question Time, where an ignorant public interrogate equally ignorant politicos and z-listers, there is no readily available channel of reliable or useful information. As Eureferendum notes, much of the Brussels news we get is little more than what is spoonfed to hacks in the pigpen. We are no better or worse informed than if we simply read the EU's own press releases. The rest is supposition, innuendo and fabrication.

Though I can never prove it, a large part of me believes that the media is as much responsible for BRexit as any other factor. Perhaps more so. The unedifying spectacle of televised leaders debates in the 2015 election reduced our politics to a glitzy game show - and the referendum coverage took much the same tone. These are people we don't want to hear from, who can't tell us anything, in a format that is objectively disgusting. For all the wailing we have heard from the establishment about "fake news" it is little wonder that the inquisitive would seek news from elsewhere.

Leave won the referendum not because of any bus or sophisticated Russian bots. What won it for leave was a wave of revulsion at our politics - of which the media is a major component - where it revealed itself to be lacking all authority and gravitas and unable to treat adult issues with any seriousness.

There was a time where both the BBC and ITN enjoyed a certain level of respect. Their pompous intro music and their formal format gave them a certain gravitas which has since been eroded as new more often takes on the form of informal sofa chats where everything is softened to present the human interest side of a story, treating viewers as imbeciles. We used to have Brain Walden. Now we have generic vacuous blondes and Andrew Neil.

There is now something quite slovenly about our media which is indicative of a media class that does not see its own faults and believes itself to be the height of excellence. It has no concept of how it underperforms and does not respond to external impetus. Like politics it has become a closed loop of the profoundly ignorant, parasitic in nature and completely tone deaf. 

It is not coincidental that the our media's vitality has expired around the same time as our politics. The two are symbiotic. Co-dependent even. One sordid nest of incompetence cannot exist without the other. There is a revolving door between the media, think tankery and politics, it's all part of the same culture and its value system is entirely alien to normal people. Not for nothing is the Brexit vote almost entirely the regions versus London.

One would surmise that with most of our politics, particularly for England, being funnelled through Westminster, with all the major decisions taken there, London becomes the be all and end all of politics which produces vacuous clones and ambitious sociopaths. This is where Brexit could be our last chance to turn things around. In an Observer piece this weekend entitled "the baleful distraction of Brexit" it wails that:
Brexit has paralysed British politics: it has left the government utterly incapacitated, ministers warring and both main parties riven by splits. It is absorbing every shred of political energy; in the words of one official, it has wiped the policy grid clean. Yet in every nook and cranny of the state – from understaffed hospitals to the schools sending parents begging letters for financial support – there are problems that demand urgent focus and resource. We also face huge social challenges that require action now, from how to care for an ageing society to how to prepare for the impact of technology on the world of work. All this is going ignored, with detrimental effects on people’s lives.
What it fails to note is that all of these problems existed long before Brexit was ever a thing, and even before the banking crash - before austerity was even a word in regular use. Moreover, nothing Westminster was ever likely to do was ever going to resolve it. They are only capable of more of the same. Public debate on all of these issues is as ill served by our politics and our media because it is conducted in that same pocket of unreality and subject to all the same distorted media narratives.

I am, therefore, not in the least bit concerned that Brexit "wipes the policy grid clean". That's partly what I hoped for in voting to leave. If parliament cannot cope then it will have to devolve (return) these such matters to their rightful place in local government. It is only by having local politics of consequence can we expect to have local media of any worth or intrigue, and in cutting Westminster out of the loop, we also cut out the bubble dwelling media. What is needed then, is a new framework for real local democracy and self-governance.

The basic problem of British politics is that we invest our hopes in a corrupted government machine to provide solutions to problems it is in no position intellectually or politically to resolve. We are then angered when it doesn't deliver. It is unrealistic, though, to believe that there are central government solutions. We are only going to solve these problems through meaningful democratic participation - which is not Westminster.

This week we have seen the People's Vote brigade rolling out Tony Blair. One of the most scummy fork-tongued Remain narratives employed by Blair and his fellow quislings is that if we stop Brexit we can focus on the "real issues" instead. We are to simply roll over and entrust the same old faces to deliver a "new deal". But we know how that goes; more patronising makework schemes and "regeneration investment" - most of which is consumed by consultancy firms via a regional quango - and as ever the answer is to firehose more welfare at the plebs.

They think Brexit only happened because of "austerity" - not because we are utterly sick of the lot of them. They think they can once again dip into our wallets to dish out electoral bribes and we'll be ok with them pissing on our votes. They reckon we didn't really mean to leave the EU - and that it's just the underlying issues *they* need to fix. It doesn't occur to them that the underlying issue is the fact that we hate them and their EU vanity project. It's all just a management and PR problem to them.

They genuinely think we're too bovine to care about things like self-determination,. democracy and accountability - and we'll pack up and go away if there's a top up of regional funding. We all know nothing would change if we trusted them. As much as anything, we voted to leave precisely because we have an establishment that will continually do as it pleases and ignore the rest of the country when we protest. Even now they don't get it which is why they can so casually talk about overturning a vote.

They don't recognise that Brits genuinely want regime change and a chance to reshape Britain - and all they offer us is more of the same - more taxes, more authoritarianism and more paternalistic meddling while they heap on the insults. The fact that these well compensated individuals parade Blair, Major, Adonis and Campbell on our screens honestly thinking it will win people over tells you everything you need to know. They've never even met a working class person outside of London. Or at all for that matter. Just like our media.

I have a deep well of disgust for the Westminster bubble. It is a cancer at the very heart of British society. I do not believe anything can be resolved until we carve it out. I can very easily understand why so many would riot if their Brexit vote is stolen from them. Brexit is our one and only chance at meaningful change - and if it doesn't happen then we are still at the mercy of a system that treats us with contempt. With the death of Brexit is the death of hope for a better country. The country is finished if this really is the best we can do.  

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